Hygiene as prevention

By Susan Frances Bonner, author of Opening A Registered Nurses Eyes; A life Altering Journey Across North America

Now, before my learnered colleagues turn the page and scoff at the topic of this article, please take into account the times in which we live. There were the E-Coli and Salmonella outbreaks that caused millions of dollars in food and merchandise recalls, there is the threat of Pandemics, including Avian and Swine Flu, and there has been increasing incidences of MRSA infections. Heck, there is just the regular “flu season” that is looming ahead of us this year to consider.

Hygiene is an age old subject that is more timely today than ever. There are many types of Hygiene, but one thing is clear, since the days of Florence Nightingale good hygiene is the hallmark of maintaining good health and preventing the transmission of disease.

The word Hygiene originated in Greek Mythology. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygiene)

The term “hygiene” is derived from Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation. Hygiene is also the name of the science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health, also called hygienics. Hygiene; refers to the set of practices associated with the preservation of health and healthy living. Hygiene is a concept related to medicine, as well as to personal and professional care practices related to most aspects of living, although it is most often associated with cleanliness and preventative measures. In medicine, hygiene practices are employed to reduce the incidence and spreading of disease. Other uses of the term appear in phrases including: body hygiene, domestic hygiene, dental hygiene, and occupational hygiene, used in connection with public health.

It is our obligation as Health Care Professionals too; not only educate our patients, family and friends about the importance of hygiene and cleanliness; but to practice it. And yes people, I am talking about the most basic of practices: washing one’s hands. As a Travel Nurse I have witnessed, not only Nurses; but Doctors that have gone from one patient to another without touching soap and water. Now that may be acceptable in an emergency situation, but not in an environment that is somewhat stabile.

When should you wash your hands?

Examples include:

* Before preparing or eating food
* After going to the bathroom
* After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom.
* Before and after caring for someone who is sick
* After handling uncooked foods, particularly raw meat, poultry, or fish.
* After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
* After handling an animal or animal waste
* After handling garbage
* Before and after treating a cut or wound
* After handling items contaminated by flood water or sewage

Just as hand washing is the first step to good hygiene, keeping one’s body and clothes clean is the next phase. My husband, who was a New York “inner city” Paramedic before I was a nurse; made sure that every time he came home from work he would take his work clothes off at the front door of our home and put it in a garbage bag and then take a shower. A practice that I continued throughout my Nursing career. It was an easy thing to do and taking a relaxing shower after a hard nights work in a busy hospital worked wonders on my psyche.

I am not going to list every type of hygiene in this article, because you as medical professionals know where you can look them up. But I will stress the importance of keeping vigilant when it comes to this important part of our practice. We cannot stop what Florence Nightingale started by just opening a window and giving patients a bath. We must take it further by practicing what we preach.

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